How I Ended Up in China

This is a question that many people have asked me on several different occasions. I should start at the beginning. I always knew that I wanted to study International Affairs at university. I remember having a conversation with my friend Brian about what his International Affairs major entailed. I thought to myself “Whoa, I can study this as my major!” It was a combination of all the different subjects that I was interested in(感兴趣) - political science, history, economics, sociology, anthropology.

When I was in high school(高中), my mom and I went to visit Kennesaw State University. We went to the International Affairs department to talk to someone about what classes I should take and to get some additional(额外) information. We sat down with Professor Doleys and he gave us all the course information that we needed. During my first semester(学期) of college, Professor Doleys became my academic advisor when I declared my major with the first month or so. He always noted that “most students don’t declare their major so early in their college career.” Later on, we laughed about that first meeting with my mother. I was so sure of myself and that this major was the right choice for me. I grew up in the sheltered suburbs(郊区) and I knew at some point that I wanted to get out in the world.

international relations

As well as my International Affairs studies, I continued my French classes from high school. I was planning on spending a semester in France or Belgium at some point. I went to a study abroad fair in October 2010. I picked up a pamphlet(小册子) with all of the different programs through my university. One of them was a month long trip to China in Shanghai and Beijing. At this point, I was enrolled in a Macroeconomics(宏观经济) with one of KSU’s best economics professors Dr. Goodwin. This was in the midst of the Global recession(经济衰退) and we were discussing(讨论) China’s rise and changing role in the global community. I wondered what would happen if I went to China for a month in the summer. It was something completely different and exotic(异域的) to me. It just seemed like it could be a really cool experience. It was one of the most random inclinations that I have ever had in my entire life. Forget(忘记) all my years of learning French. Forget that I didn’t speak a single word of Chinese. Forget that I was focusing on European studies. Forget that I knew little to nothing about China.

phone on table

This all lead up to one of the most important phone conversations (blackberry for the sake of historical accuracy) of my adult life. I called my mom and started to talk about China’s role in the world. Chinese is an important language in the world. China has the 3rd largest economy in the world (at that time). My mouth was dry and my heart was beating….. “So there’s this program in Shanghai next summer….” Her first natural reaction(反应) was “What about your French? Why don’t you go to France?” After some convincing, we both came to the conclusion that it was a good move for my career. I signed up for my first Chinese class the next semester and got ready to go on my trip.

There’s a certain naivety about your first time abroad. I was so sheltered back home that exploring the city on the subway was an adventure. As I started to learn more about China, I became more and more fascinated. The history, the political system, the fast-pace atmosphere of Shanghai and China changing role in the world got me hooked on China. I knew I had to come back. Au revoir to my French aspirations. Honestly(坦率地说), I never threw myself into learning French. My desire to learn Chinese was intertwined with my fascination with the complicated place that China was, is, and will be. I never appreciated(重视) or understood(理解) French culture and I never took it seriously. Learning a language is a marathon. You have to be willing to keep pace for a long time and be really invested in reaching a goal. You can’t sloppily or inconsistently learn a language.


After I got back to from my Shanghai trip, every paper, project, and thesis was all about China. It became the central focus of my undergraduate studies. I studied abroad in Beijing again for a program that specialized in Chinese language and politics. After I graduated(毕业), I served tables to save up to move back to China indefinitely(无限制地). I wanted so badly to be out in the world. There was no other place that I could be other than back in Beijing. Two years later, I’m still here.

Now, this isn’t the exciting and exhilarating story(故事) of how I ended up in China. My story is not different from many expats in Beijing. It is the story of how small, insignificant(无意义的) moments may take you down a completely different path from what you were expecting. A Macroeconomics class, a random study abroad brochure, and a nervous phone call somehow turned into buying a one-way ticket to Beijing with no way of knowing what was going to happen next. Those small, insignificant moments are how I ended up in China.

Kristen Carusos is from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. She graduated from Kennesaw State University with a major in International Affairs and a minor in French. She studied abroad in China for the first time in Shanghai in 2010 and again in 2011 at Beijing Language and Culture University. She graduated and moved to Beijing in 2012 and has been studying Chinese since then. She works in the Marketing Department at the Sinology Institute.